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Sacred Heart Prep repeats as CCS Division III boys’ soccer champs

Terry Bernal Daily Journal Staff
SHP defeated Menlo-Atherton 3-2 en route to their 2nd straight CCS Division II Championship. 
The Gators are back on top.
No. 4-seed Sacred Heart Prep (14-5-2) repeated at Central Coast Section Division II boys’ soccer champions Saturday with a 3-2 victory over No. 6 Menlo-Atherton at Palatella Field. It is the third straight year the Gators have played for a CCS title, falling in the Open Division final in 2019-20, and the ninth all-time section title in the history of the boys’ program.
Senior forward Billy Thompson led a shock-and-awe start for SHP, scoring a goal in the 4th minute off an assist from junior Luke Maxwell. Senior forward Carlos Deras scored the final two goals for the Gators, making it 2-0 in the 19th minute and 3-1 in the 49th.
“Feeling great,” said Deras, who has played in each of the past three CCS championship games. “Back-to-back champions. It’s been a tough effort. And as a team, we all came together today. We don’t stop improving, and we just keep going and going, and picking it up. It feels great.”
With SHP playing five midfielders for most of the afternoon, the back row was tasked with playing a precise game. And defensemen Thomas Sullivan, Alex Bartels and Luis Mendoza played an exceptional 80 minutes of soccer, punctuating a near-perfect run through the CCS bracket.
When Menlo-Atherton freshman Shinya Frank scored in the 67th minute to make it 3-2 — Frank found the ball up top off a corner kick after it rattled chaotically in the box off several players — it was the first goal scored from the field against the Gators in the postseason. M-A’s earlier goal, off the foot of senior Tiziano Bolaños in the 35th minute, was off a free kick.
“We knew we weren’t going to out-possess them,” SHP head coach Armando Del Rio said. “We’ve been really focused on … a really gritty, resilient, tight defensive block. So, we were OK allowing them to build out, and at midfield we really wanted to press them. But our backline, our back three right now is really playing fantastic.”
Perhaps the most fantastic defensive play came in the 71st minute with a valiant effort from junior goalkeeper Logan Aboudara. M-A sent a long through ball over the top as sophomore Hewitt Stevenson stormed through the penalty area. Stevenson timed it well into the keeper’s box and left his feet like a cannonball attempting to connect, but Aboudara beat him to the spot.
It wasn’t Stevenson who collided with Aboudara, however, but the keeper’s teammate, junior Nathaniel Pi-Sunyer. And even though Aboudara grabbed the ball, his fall to the turf jarred it loose. What ensued was a frenzy between Stevenson and Pi-Sunyer, with the latter popping to his feet to parry toward Stevenson and gain possession right in front of the cage to avert a game-tying M-A score.
“The clearance that our wingback made — Nathaniel had a fantastic game structurally,” Del Rio said. “At some point in these games, it’s a total team defending. It’s kind of, whatever it takes.”
SHP opened with a bang, scoring a quick-strike goal with a little help from the soccer gods. Maxwell came up with a loose ball in the M-A back rank and hurried up the left side to send a cross to Thompson, who booted it in stride from just inside the 18. M-A goalkeeper Chase Trigg got a hand on it and knocked it up in the air, but the force of the shot sent the deflection tumbling into the goal for a score.
“It’s a great mindset,” Deras said of the early goal. “It totally destroys the other team’s ambition and totally picks up the momentum.”
Then Deras got his playoff mojo working with his first and second goals of the postseason.
In the 19th minute, the Gators ran down a long pass in the corner and got it over to Maxwell at the corner of the box. With Deras surging on the opposite side, Maxwell tapped it over to utilize the fast approach, and Deras met the keeper’s challenge with a quick chip shot over and in to make it 2-0.
M-A (8-7-4) relied mostly on quick-strike counterattacks to get its offense in play in the first half and was effective in setting up a free kick for its first goal of the afternoon. Bolaños found a strong tactic by using some sweet footwork to tap a reverse pass back to senior Kieran Kunihiro, who drove across and moved to over to senior Toivo Zahir, who was fouled just outside of the penalty area.
Bolaños made the free kick count from 20 yards out, bending in a laser beam to cut SHP’s lead to 2-1.
“I’ve always said throughout the year, if we play the way we know how to play, we’re one of the best teams,” M-A head coach Leo Krupnik said. “But unfortunately, it has been too inconsistent throughout the year. And we paid for it at the end.”
The inconsistencies showed up in the second half when SHP stunted M-A’s counterattacks and forced them to play from side to side.
“I thought we really picked it up in the second half,” Frank said. “We had energy. But we were just trying to get the ball into the box, we just couldn’t get anything to go in.”
The Gators soon dealt a deflating blow when Deras re-upped the lead to 3-1 on an assist from Pi-Sunyer, as the two connected on a cross through the box for Deras to score back post.
“It was great because it destroyed the other team’s hopes of coming back,” Deras said. “And it set the gap between the score. It was a good feeling. I felt the connection when I hit the shot.”
Frank made it interesting in the 67th minute, scoring his second-ever varsity goal, and his first from the field. His only other goal this season was during penalty kicks in M-A’s 1-1 (4-2 on PKs) win over Mountain View in the CCS semifinals.
“I was on the sideline, and I was looking for a cross,” Frank said. “And I opened my hips to make it look I going to cross it in then I cut inside onto my left foot. Then I just took a shot, I think it deflected off a defender and then rolled in.”
As for the near miss between Aboudara and Stevenson in the 71st that nearly tied the game, Krupnik expressed frustration it was M-A’s only good chance of the second half.
“We’re not really looking for ways to win games like that,” Krupnik said. “We should have played our way. I can make all the excuses in the world, but it is what it is.”
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Founded by the Society of the Sacred Heart, SHS is a Catholic, independent, co-ed day school for students in preschool through grade 12